BEVERLY — At age 18, Noime Alves came to the U.S. with a dream — to receive an education.

Emigrating from Cape Verde, she didn’t speak English and was one month pregnant.

On Thursday evening, Alves, now 26, received a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice from the Van Loan School at Endicott College, where she graduated with top marks. She was chosen to be this year’s student commencement speaker.

“I was born to go to school and be somebody,” said Alves, who speaks four languages.

She’ll join more than 1,130 other graduating students from Endicott across the college’s two commencement ceremonies.

Alves said she and her father left Cape Verde, a poor country off the coast of Africa, for a chance to live the American dream.

“We came here for a better life, for a job and an education and our family,” Alves said. If she stayed in her country, college would have been financially inaccessible.

While living with extended family in Dorchester and growing accustomed to New England culture and weather, Alves graduated from Boston International High School with a high GPA. She later gave birth to her son. After several years, her husband came to the U.S. and they were married.

With help from her cousin, Alves learned of the programs available at Endicott College and began attending classes on their campus in downtown Boston.

Growing up, Alves dreamed of becoming a doctor. But after witnessing a horrible shooting in Roxbury that left one man dead, she said her plan changed.

“This one incident changed my life,” she said, and she decided to pursue criminal justice.

“At Endicott, we’re a family,” said Alves, adding how they always made her feel welcome. “If you have a problem, it’s now my problem too.”

When she became a U.S. citizen in 2017, Alves asked Brian Pellinen, who at the time was academic dean of professional studies at Endicott, to attend the ceremony. Pellinen said it was an unbelievable honor when Alves asked him to attend.

“She’s an incredible human being,” said Pellinen, who’s currently dean of academic affairs at Montserrat College. “She was one of those students who make this all worthwhile; she inspired us.”

Pellinen said Endicott College Boston began several years ago as a small campus serving first-generation Americans and college students, like Alves.

He recalled how hardworking and optimistic Alves was as a student. From the beginning, he said she always saw the value of an education.

When she was struggling, Alves said Pellinen and his wife continually encouraged her, saying, “You’ve got this, you’re smart...look how far you’ve come.”

“They don’t realize how much a word can mean to you,” she added.

After graduation, Alves plans on joining the police academy but is keeping her options open. “My big dream is to become a lawyer,” she added.

As for her graduating class, she encourages them to “Never forget where you came from.”

Staff writer Alyse Diamantides can be reached at 978-338-2660 or adiamantides@salemnews.com.

Endicott College Van Loan School Commencement

When: 5 p.m. Thursday, May 23

Where: Endicott College, 376 Hale St., Beverly

Number of Graduates: 10 doctorates, 349 master’s degrees, 102 bachelor’s degrees

Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient: Latoyia Edwards, news anchor, NBC Universal. Edwards received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Student Remarks: Nicholas G. Molinari and Noime Alves